There’s plenty of talk nowadays around artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. Often, conversations dwell on how these technologies will completely change everyday life as we know it sometime in the distance future. The assumption here is that we are a long way off from a time when robots and automation will have an outsized role at home and work.
On the contrary, though, robots have been around for a while and are already having a profound impact in a number of industries. As machines are taking over roles previously performed by humans, a number of established work roles are at growing risk of redundancy. Here’s a look at some of these.
Assembly Line Manufacturing
Assembly line manufacturing is arguably the industry that has been most affected by automation and robotics. In the United States alone, robots have replaced as many as 5 million manufacturing jobs over the last 20 years—Everything from welding automation (e.g. Lincoln robotics) to actual parts assembly.
Robots reduce defects, minimize losses and increase efficiency. Perhaps because assembly line manufacturing has already grown accustomed to automation, this is one industry that is likely already braced for a future where robots dominate the factory floor.
A number of leading automobile manufacturers and technology giants are working on self-driving trucks. Autonomous trucks are yet to make a significant dent on long-haul trucking jobs but there’s broad consensus that this is one area driverless tech could have a massive impact on in the medium to long term. Trucking is an especially lucrative candidate for robotic cars since cargo routes are often repetitive.
Alphabet through its subsidiary Waymo is testing driverless trucks in moving data center equipment for its biggest subsidiary, Google. It wasn’t a huge leap since Alphabet already has years of experience with AI software for its driverless Google Earth street-view vehicle fleet.
Overall, hundreds of thousands of trucking jobs may be lost to autonomous trucks by 2050.
You’ve probably talked to a customer support bot dozens of times without realizing it. Banks, insurance firms, telecommunications service providers and numerous other industries are transitioning a significant proportion of their customer service tasks to bots.
Live chatbots have been the most visible example of this shift and are becoming ever more advanced in order to handle sophisticated inquiries. The more work such chatbots can handle, the fewer the office assistant and customer service employees the organization needs on its payroll.
As a sign of where customer service automation is headed, search giant Google showcased an AI bot called Duplex that can engage in conversation with humans, set up appointments and make phone calls on one’s behalf. Duplex heavily mimics normal human conversation and features voice pauses and inflections that make it harder for the other party to know they are interacting with a robot.
E-commerce is rapidly gaining on brick and mortar retail thanks to the proliferation of the smartphone and accessibility of the Internet. The growing ubiquity of online shopping coupled with the intense competition for market share is driving the need to get orders delivered faster and with precision.
Since warehouse cycles are repetitive, they are a perfect candidate for the robotics revolution. Unsurprisingly, e-commerce behemoth Amazon is showing the way. It already has over 100,000 robots in its warehouses working with human staff to sort inventory.
Amazon insists that the robots aren’t a threat to jobs but rather enhance the efficiency of its workers. That claim is debatable though since whatever role robots are brought in to do was previously performed directly or indirectly by a human worker. Robots don’t need a lunch break or to go on vacation so this is certainly good for business. For warehouse workers though, the outlook isn’t too rosy.
The above examples paint a gloomy present and dystopian future for workers. Nevertheless, robotics and automation aren’t all negative as far as jobs are concerned. While robots may render certain roles redundant, they’ll simultaneously create new and better-paying opportunities such as machine programming.